cried. I shouted. I jumped out of my chair when the buzzer sounded, and my wife
came in wondering what the hell was going on. I said “WE JUST BEAT THE EFFING
JAZZ AGAIN!” And then I cried a bit more.
And then I remembered we didn’t “just” beat the Jazz again. It had happened 22 years ago – but I was completely transported by The Last Dance, revisiting scenes from my youth like it was the first time all over. Only now I was watching them with the eyes of an adult. An adult with a mind geared towards marketing. So I asked myself, are there lessons we can take away from The Last Dance? The answer, in case the headline didn’t give it away, is yes:
Let’s start with a history lesson. The power of Michael Jordan’s brand remains astonishing – he made four times as much from Nike as LeBron did last year. Four times! Jordan’s been out of the league for over two decades and folks still want to Be Like Mike. And thanks to their partnership, the Swoosh became as dominant in the basketball market as #23 was on the court. Find the right hero and there are no limits to where your brand can go.
Jordan’s relentless pursuit of perfection holds another lesson. He didn’t just want to compete, he wanted to dominate. Sounds a bit like Jeff Bezos, no? When we sweat the small stuff, when every detail on and off the court matters, that’s how we go beyond simply letting people know we have a good product or service.
Here’s one more: Take things personally. It sounds a bit counter-intuitive, right? Do it anyway. It doesn’t mean you’re unprofessional. It means you care. Mike took everything personally. And he was a better player for it. Passion shows, whether it’s on the court or in a conference room.
On a related note, don’t be afraid to push back against teammates (and clients!), even or especially if you’re not the one calling the shots. Steve Kerr probably didn’t want to get in a practice brawl with Jordan, but he did, and earned Jordan’s trust and respect for doing so. No fight, no game-winning shot in Game 6 of the 1997 Finals. Don’t punch people at work, of course, but still – Be Like Steve.
Finally, there’s always a villain. I’m sure #23 would have been happier if he hadn’t feuded with Jerry Krause. I’m equally sure he wouldn’t have been as driven. Your strategy needs a bad guy, and your campaigns do too. Without tension, there’s no story. Without a challenge, there’s no motivation to improve.
are the lessons for marketing…but that’s not all we can learn from The Last
Dance, because America was starving for what the series brought us. COVID-19
has disrupted our everyday existence, but it’s also disrupted our seasonal, springtime
rhythms. The NCAA Tournament, the Masters, the beginning of baseball season,
the NBA playoffs – all have become victims of the virus. But for six weeks in
April and May, we were treated to an epic (there’s no other word for it)
documentary series about one of the greatest dynasties in the history of
sports. And we came together to revel in it.
That coming together is a big deal. Because we need it right now. Partisanship has seeped into everything, poisoning ties between Americans in a way I’ve never seen in my life (I’m told the `60s were worse). Put a “snowflake lib” and a “right wing nut job” next to each other in a bar and they’re not likely to get along – until they find out they’re both Bulls fans. Then, if only for a little while, the smears are forgotten. Or at least redirected at the Pistons.
It may sound trivial, but sports are the most visible unifier we have. They remind us of what we have in common. They give us other heroes, other places to invest our loyalty, other ways for us to come together as humans and become part of something larger than ourselves. We love to compete – and we are united in our enjoyment of it.